Case study of english language learners center in skokie


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Case study of english language learners center in skokie

  1. 1. Sleyko 1 Katie Sleyko Case Study of the English Language Learning Center in Skokie LIS 758, Fall
  2. 2. Sleyko 2Introduction The schools of Niles Township are host to an incredible diversity of students, whoseimmigrant and refugee parents are unfamiliar with both English and American school customs.The English Language Learning Center aims to educate these parents and provide communityand social empowerment for both students and parents. To look into these effects, I observedseveral classes and interviewed the director of the center, Corrie Wallace. I found someinequalities in the ways that ICTs and digital information are presented, but found that offlinecommunity building and social capital effects to have made an impact. As the center is underfive years old, there are few longitudinal statistics on its impact; however, anecdotal accountsand statistics on discipline in the schools can be interpreted to show some immediate effects ofthe ELL center.Skokie History, History of the Center The Niles Township School District 219 is a high school district on the north side ofChicago, fed by the suburbs Morton Grove, Niles, Lincolnwood, and Skokie. Though many ofthese suburbs fit the stereotype of a northern suburb—well-off and majority-white—Skokie is anexception. The village of Skokie hosts one of the largest immigrant and refugee populationsoutside of Chicago, with 30,000 of it 68,000 residents having been born in a different country.1These immigrants and refugees speak 100 languages between them,2 and 15,000 of Skokieresidents cannot speak English very well. 31 (U.S. Census Bureau n.d.)2 ( 2010)3 (U.S. Census Bureau n.d.)
  3. 3. Sleyko 3 Skokie provides many services for immigrants and refugees, though these are scattered inmany places around the village. These range from free ESL classes at the community college, tofamily services at the elementary and middle schools, to citizenship classes provided by theHebrew Immigrant Aid Society. 4 A problem with these services, though, is the lack of in-depthhelp and retention of adult students. Students would come to ESL classes and never be heardfrom again by the providers, even though they may have been able to help with other concerns ordirect people to different services. This is especially problematic for schools, where parents fromother cultures may be unused to school expectations and processes, and may lack understandingof how to help their children. A solution to this came in 2008 with the opening of the English Language LearnersParent Center, abbreviated to “ELL Center” by users and managers. This center hosts freeclasses sponsored by the Niles Township School District and other community partners, allowingthere to be a clearinghouse-type colocation of services for non-English speakers which is easilyaccessible to parents within the school district. This allowed the center to capitalize on therelationship between immigrants and refugees and trusted service providers, such as thecommunity college and by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and combine them with strongbonds to the schools and school district through their children. Because of this, the center hasgrown in three years much larger than an unaffiliated community center might have in the sameamount of time, with 500 parents in the area having used an ELL Center service.5 The mission of the center is to increase parent literacy, allow better access to communityresources, and to educate parents as a model for their children.6 The ELL center focuses on4 (Wallace 2010)5 (Wallace 2010)6 (Niles Townships ELL Parent Center n.d.)
  4. 4. Sleyko 4“survival-based programming,”7 meaning that the goal is for the parents to be able to understandthe national and local environment as well as needed services. This focus on both the ease ofaccess and the strong focus on education is hoped to improve the schoolwork of children of ELLCenter students, as well as increase community, access to social services and culture, and socialpower for those parents who participate. The center’s goals align well with theories ofcommunity engagement and social capital, especially in the using of existing social networks—here, between immigrants/refugees and service providers—to strengthen the ties betweenimmigrants and the school system.Management of center The ELL Center was opened under the management of Corrie Wallace, a teacher andsocial worker. The location, staff, and budget of the Center are under the direct control ofDistrict 68, though the center is governed by the superintendents of all Niles Township SchoolDistrict schools. The center is sponsored and funded by 8 of the 10 school districts that feed intothe Niles Township School District, including many elementary and middle schools. Each of theparticipating school districts funds the ELL Center $12.50 per ELL Center student. This allowsenough money in the budget for a small staff and some classes, which are currently those classesrequested by students that use volunteer teachers and equipment that ELL Center owns. Mostprograms, however, are funded through other community partners who either have grants, likethe Morton Grove and Skokie Public Libraries, or use the space for already-funded programs,such as ESL through Oakton Community College.Physical Description of Center The location is easily accessible, a strong benefit in a center committed to access. Thecenter is located in a small building owned by District 68 near Golf and Gross Point Road. This7 (Niles Townships ELL Parent Center n.d.)
  5. 5. Sleyko 5places it within walking distance of the Skokie Hospital, Niles North High School, and OldOrchard Mall, a common stop on Skokie bus routes. It is on the property of a District 68 middleschool. Located in the hub of such commercial, health and academic activity, the center isextremely hard to miss. Access to the center itself is mediated, requiring being buzzed in by the secretary to enter.Inside, the center’s main room acts as both its entrance hall and class space. The secretary’sdesk is in this room, facing the doorway, and piled high with brochures and communityinformation for students to take. Three rooms branch off of this one, all with large glass windowsfacing the entry. These function as the children’s playroom, a computer lab, and the main officeof the director. The children’s room contains a TV for children’s movies, which are usuallyplayed, it seems, when the majority of the children brought to the center are too young to havehomework. The computer lab contains ten computers, which are all ten-year-old Dells, and oneprinter. This lab is used only for classes, not open for everyday use. The walls of the classroom/entry space contain Illinois Board of Education informationtranslated into a dozen languages, as well as a bulletin board with outside services and eventsadvertised. On the secretary’s desk are legal brochures, in both Spanish and English, advertisinglow-cost legal services, next to lists of Village of Skokie department phone numbers. There areinternet job search handouts, parenting magazines, and lists of non-English-language speakingprofessionals in the area. Bookshelves in the room are full of Skokie Library reference materialsand paperbacks owned by the center. Titles on citizenship, money management, and the SAT sitnext to student dictionaries, James Patterson potboilers, and Algebra textbooks. Brochures fromclass partners such as Oakton and Skokie library fill another bookshelf, along with route maps ofPACE buses.
  6. 6. Sleyko 6 The ELL Center focuses on offline sources of information, and in the amount of text itprovides, they are excelling. The amount of printed information, while mostly in English, doesprovide huge amounts of resources and information to English language learners. One of thegoals of the center, as articulated by Corrie Wallace, is to be able to provide information in thelanguage of all the languages of students there; though with the amount of languages spoken byELL center users numbers numbering 468, this task may be Sisyphean.Classes The center hosts free classes and events designed for a non-citizen, non-English speakingaudience. English as a Second Language classes have been with the center since the beginning.These come in both reading and conversation classes, as well as one-on-one tutoring. Citizenshipclasses and speakers on many immigration topics are popular and very sought-after. Parentingclasses are offered on a variety of topics, from infant development and play to teen-parentmediation. Every class provides free childcare, either through a multilingual staff member, or, inthe case of the class “Positive Parenting and Homework Help,” through a variety of high-schoolers acting as tutors. The focus of the ELL Center, though, stays on the parents, so varietiesof options for children are not available nor are of much concern for the center. A variety of events and classes aimed at general social participation are offered as well.Money management and United States banking system classes are offered in the spring.Financial aid and college seminars, aimed at both children and adults, are provided. Computerclasses and blogging classes have proven popular. There have been many “field trips” whereparents learn to use public transportation and how to look up bus routes on the PACE website.Health education seminars have been useful in both spreading awareness about the US medicalsystem and in helping parents understand health forms and waivers from their children’s schools.8 (Wallace 2010)
  7. 7. Sleyko 7There are also job search presentations and job placement services provided through immigrantlabor groups such as Upwardly Global.Research Methods For this case study, I decided that direct observation would be the best way to evaluatethis site. As supplements to this, I read a blog created by an earlier English class and I looked upstatistics from the Niles Township School District. I sat in on several classes and interviewedCorrie Wallace, the director of the center. I sat in on three different classes, all held on differentdays: Family Literacy and Tea and Talk, both basic English programs, and a basic computerskills class. I also observed a meeting held at the center, revolving around creating an accreditedinterpreter program, called Language Ambassadors, through multilingual volunteers at District73.5 middle schools. I was introduced to the classes and the meeting near the end of each session,though I tried to be open about my outsider status by talking to instructors in English while in thepresence of students before classes began. I was placed in a position where I could not see thescreens of students in the computer skills class. I did not interview any students, but I was givenanecdotal information on the impact of programs by some teachers. I recorded some interestingremarks made by bilingual parents and teachers within the Language Ambassadors meeting, butthese were unprompted and these parents were aware of my status as an observer.Interview with Director Corrie Wallace I interviewed Corrie Wallace, the director of the ELL Center, on the 17th of November.She has first-hand experience of being a lingual and social outsider in a foreign country. For twoyears, she lived in Japan with her husband and children. Her children went to Japanese schools,where she was supposed to help with her children’s homework. Being illiterate in Japanese, shewould tell her children to write at least a page in Japanese for their assignments, and when the
  8. 8. Sleyko 8paper was filled, the “work” was done. When Wallace came back to the states in 2007, sheproposed a way to get non-English speaking people involved in the community—use the schools.The Village voted to fund it, and the ELL Center was born in 2008. Though she runs the center,she also interprets Spanish for parents, often going around the Village where her services areneeded. She credits the purposeful diversity of Skokie for the success of the center, saying thatthe Village had to believe that non-English speaker’s isolation from their children’s schooling tobe a problem to want to fund the center in the first place. One of the main goals of the center is to ease the burden off of children, Wallace says.Children raised in the US by non-English speaking parents are very often used as translators,putting the children into a uniquely difficult position. Parenting classes are used by the center asways to teach American expectations and to provide for families who may be in need. The class“The Learning Basket,” for example, provides education on developmental stages for parents,and gives away a free developmentally-appropriate toy with each session. Though interested in the longevity of the center, Wallace takes the center’s “survival-based” mission to heart. She has also had many parents come to her after taking classes, tellingher that they want to help in creating or teaching classes. Though she likes the base of volunteersand potential translators, her goal is not to make parents into teachers, but to get access and useof the center to any parent that needs it, often extending to picking up and driving reluctantparents to the center herself. Though turnover of students into teachers is important to thelongevity and sustainability of the center, Wallace seems to be focused on putting out fires, so tospeak, than in putting down roots. Eventually, Wallace says, she wants the center to be a community hub for all groups ofnon-English speakers, and wants for children to be fluent in both their parent’s native language
  9. 9. Sleyko 9and English. Preserving diversity is important in keeping the open character of Skokie, shebelieves. Keeping the identities of the communities distinct but co-mingling can provide a newsort of cultural exchange, one that can give community members access to social power andsocial capital without having to give up their past. Williamson writes about e-democracy built onsuch places, especially those outside of the current political systems; allowing for exchange tooccur and to build can create incredible political power within communities and create change. 9Internet connections and ICT use Though occurring the latest in my time observing at the center, the basic computer skillsclass links most closely with research on community informatics impact in communities, beingfocused on spreading ICT use within the community. The class focuses on ground-level internetskills, such as using search engines, sending email, and finding files saved to the computer. Thisclass was sparsely attended when I visited, due to recurring inclement weather. Five women andone man attended. The teacher told me in an aside that those there were on the “slow track” ofthe class and needed extra help. The class consisted of practicing saving files from the internet tothe desktop and attaching them to email messages. In this class, people in the same language groups sat next to each other, to give help intheir native languages. The class was delivered in English, and students seemed to be near-fluentin it, as they made conversation with each other during class in English with those outside oftheir language group. The one exception was one woman who needed the instructor to speak herin her native language, as she was apparently confused on names of items, and she took notesextensively in a notebook. Students in the class had differing levels of immersion into email. The one man in theclass, who I was told joined the class several weeks late, was telling the instructor which video9 (Williamson 2006)
  10. 10. Sleyko 10chat clients he used to talk to his family. Another woman had used her email extensively sincesigning up for the class-required account, talking to people around the globe. Two women, whoseemed to speak between themselves in a language no one else in the class shared, had never sentan email, even the ones they were supposed to send each other at the end of the lesson as practice.There was additional difficulty with the concept of search bars versus address bars, and somepeople forgot how to log into their email. Even so, by the end of class the instructor had toadmonish some students for attaching too many pictures to their email. Though the class was certainly helpful for those enrolled, I could not help but wonder atthe level of English proficiency required to use the class effectively. The class was delivered inEnglish and using English-exclusive websites, including email clients. Students emails sent toeach other were in English, and the instructor turned these into lessons, asking students to notsend emails until she had corrected them. This trend of getting students who are nearly fluent in English as the majority of thecomputer classes seems to be historical. The basic skills class is in its first incarnation, havingonly been offered since September of this year, but an earlier class focused on blogging has lefttheir class blog up for public viewing.10 The students in this class learned to blog, take digitalpictures, and to shoot, edit and post digital video. This class consisted mostly of women who hadbeen in the country for many years, the majority of these living here for a decade or longer.11 Thechildren of these women were all older than 5. Many women were housewives, meaning theirhusbands made enough money to allow them to stay home. Both of these classes seem to suggest that the way that computer training is presented inthe ELL center is a function of social status, rather than of need. The most vocal student in the10 (Center 2010)11 (Baran 2010)
  11. 11. Sleyko 11basic computer skills class was a man with a fluent grasp of English, giving him a social edge onthe women in the class. The women in the blogging class were settled in the country, had astrong grasp on written and spoken English, and were wealthy enough to be able to buy internetaccess and laptops if they wanted to practice. These findings were mirrored in Saxena, whofound that women politicians, if simply given computers, did not end up using them, while mentended to do so.12 Social, educational, and gendered differences made computers that weresimply given to people without training or resources were used most by wealthy men, whounderstood the language it displayed, could write in that language, had access to repairs, and hadtotal control over their own machine. To balance these gaps, one had to go out of their way toprovide training to and feedback from women and other disempowered groups. In this case, providing access alone does not make for a balanced distribution ofcyberpower. Strategies like bilingual classes, done mostly in the student’s native language withsome English lessons added, could make the difference in the lives of ELL Center users who areboth computer- and English-illiterate. Neither should one wait for English proficiency to happenwhile allowing potential opportunities, not the least of which is gaining access to jobs, to fall bythe wayside because English proficiency is required for computer usage.Basic English Classes I observed two English classes at the ELL center. One of focused on reading, called“Family Literacy,” and the other was focused on conversation, called “Tea and Talk.” Bothclasses were taught by native English speakers, and it seemed that the teachers for both couldonly speak English. Translations were available for the Iraqi students in the Family Literacyclass, as the childcare provider was fluent in what I believe to be Arabic, but there was no such12 (Saxena 2010)
  12. 12. Sleyko 12person to do this in the Tea and Talk program. There was a majority of women at both events,with only three men attending Family Literacy and none present at Tea and Talk. The language groups represented were very diverse. There were some Spanish speakersin each class. Many Iraqi students were present in the Family Literacy program, most likelybecause of the ease of translation available. There was a woman who spoke Cantonese in FamilyLiteracy, and a woman from China in Tea and Talk. Most students sat with others in theirlanguage group. This seemed to be both because most students within language groups werefriendly with each other and to provide extra help with challenging words. Both classes try to get students acclimated to American culture and processes, thoughthey go about this in radically different ways. The Family Literacy class uses a textbook whichdivides each chapter into a story about a health-related problem, along with exercises forcomprehension for each story. One chapter deals with getting injured at work, while anothercovers how to talk to a doctor through a translator and what each line means on a prescriptionslip. Tea and Talk, on the other hand, used American guessing games as a way to remembervocabulary. The class was lead in several games of hangman and charades, which were new toall students present. Students picked vocabulary words, place names, or movie titles out of a bagfor each game. This was not universally recognizable for all students, and some had to have theteacher pull them aside to give them definitions. Though the students seemed to enjoy the games in the Tea and Talk class, I’m not surethat knowing more guessing games would help either parents or students. Some of the subjects,such as movies and place locations, will help students with their children and their handle on USgeography, but the effects of the games would depend upon being in an English-majority socialsituation. This may not happen if the parents never take jobs or socialize with native English
  13. 13. Sleyko 13speakers. This does, though, extend the reach of the center past “survival-based skills”, which arequoted on the center’s website as the primary focus; the question remains, however, about howuseful the skills taught are. The information given in the Family Literacy class went much farther in providinginformation related to both community events and daily life. Many questions received on theevening I observed were related to how the US medical system works, and they were subjectsthat might strike people raised within it as being self-explanatory. The locations one could go tofill prescriptions, for example, had to be named for students to recall that drugstores like CVScarried them. Students seemed unfamiliar with the idea of US doctors who could speak theirlanguage, and the instructor promised to provide them lists of people in the area that could.Information like this may be one-way, but the providing of it allows people to visit doctors thatthey are comfortable with and the means to getting lifesaving medication. There were also informational points made about children, especially the idea that usingthem to translate for you at the doctor’s office was a bad idea, due to vocabulary issues.Information like this saves children from being the only go-between for their parents, reducingtheir stress. It also saves them from having to be an authority for their parents rather than viceversa, which is a problem that Wallace wants to eliminate through her center.Language Ambassador meeting This meeting was one of the most promising events I attended in determining thelongevity of the ELL Center program. This event featured English-fluent teachers and parents ofDistrict 73.5, both native speakers and people for whom English is a second language, lead bythe principal of the District 73.5 pre-kindergarten school, Dr. Alison Gordon. They wereinterested in starting a program that would turn the ESL speakers into accredited translators for
  14. 14. Sleyko 14other parents in the district, called “Language Ambassadors”. The meeting consisted ofdiscussing issues of confidentiality and parent trust, distributing lists of student speakers of eachlanguage within the district, and discussing issues related to getting more parent involvement.This was an example of the center being used for non-sponsored but related community events,as many of the parents and teachers had to be introduced to the center by Corrie Wallace. The goal of this project would be to create a team of translators who would be availableto parents whenever they needed help. This may, Dr. Gordon cautioned, even lead to counselingsessions with students or other extremely personal venues. Confidentially would be required togain parent trust and assure parents that their information is safe with both Ambassadors and theschool. This follows with some of the school’s other moves towards greater parental access andsocial involvement. Just recently, a “parent computer” has been installed at each of the District73.5 schools, reserved for parents who want to learn about school events and their children’shomework. Use is free and it is reserved only for parents. The non-native Americans wanted to stress learning about the schools within theLanguage Ambassador program. Many talked about how things that Americans expect areobvious—the meaning of PTA, that parents are expected to be involved in their children’seducation, what different school forms mean—are mysteries to non-native Americans. Oneteacher said that in India, where she was raised, involvement in school ends as soon as childrenleave the school building, and was baffled by the expectation of her involvement in the Americansystem when her own children were in school. A parent from Vietnam said that she was unsureof whether she was “allowed” to talk to her children’s teachers for many years. These statementswere echoed in the desires of both Dr. Gordon and Wallace, who believe that discomfort with theschools and school system keeps parents away.
  15. 15. Sleyko 15 This meeting serves as a living example of capacity building and community engagement.The recruitment of parents into the program, once they are fluent enough in English to do so,perpetuates the system of the center, turning parents into teachers.Statistics Due to the very recent opening of the center, there are no formal statistics available aboutthe center’s impact. Looking at the statistics for the Niles Township District schools shows someimprovements in student behavior, especially in the amounts of suspensions of non-white andnon-black students going down drastically from 2008 to 2009.13 There are also statisticsindicating that students in the Niles Township School District who have limited Englishproficiency do better on national testing than their limited English proficiency counterpartsthroughout the rest of Illinois, per the 2009-2010 district report card.14 That these changes arecaused by the ELL center is much harder to determine. These statistics do show that the center’spresence is not harming student achievement in the area, at least; The anecdotes shared with me, however, underline the subtle and perhaps un-measurablenature of some skills that were communicated at the center. A frequent problem with recentimmigrants, Wallace notes, is that some people take advantage of their unfamiliarity withAmerican systems to bilk them. Some medical professionals in the area charge different, higherfees for people who pay cash over those with insurance, as many parents have told her. Wallacehopes that medical information provided in the Family Literacy programs will stymie theseproblems, at least as it pertains to medical issues. There are also problems with parentunfamiliarity with public transportation, which can cripple mobility. The center hosts “bus fieldtrips” regularly, which show parents how to find bus route information online, how to pay for1314 (Illinois State Board of Education 2010)
  16. 16. Sleyko 16fare, and how to get off at bus stops. The information in these sessions likely altered theeveryday lives of participants in drastic ways, but it would be hard to measure such an impactthrough educational outcomes or in parent literacy.Conclusion The ELL Center holds great promise and success as a community information center.Parents are informed about community programs, the school and health systems, and publictransportation. Available every time they enter the center are lists of professionals in the areawho specialize in working with non-English fluent people. Parents who were once scared ofteachers in the school system now are working for the school system to teach others. There is anoverflow of non-internet information in the center, available from printed materials and teachers.Some benefits of the center on child learning may be interpreted in school statistics. There areonly a few more steps to be taken to make the center a viable community grassroots organization,and potentially a source of political power for the people who use it. Yet there are some problems with the setup of the center, especially in the use of theirICTs. The way that classes are set up makes the internet into a solely English and Americanplace, when there are resources worth taking part in in many languages. Valuable internetexchanges between non-English-speaking ELL users and their families in their home countriesmay never occur if the center continues to make English a requirement for their use. There mayalso need to be critical views on the portions of culture that ELL center students are exposed to.Can it help parenting or accumulation of social capital to learn charades, a game that is usuallyenjoyed by the upper class of white American society? Perhaps, but the windows for it to do soare small for people who cannot yet communicate with white English-speaking society. ICTs
  17. 17. Sleyko 17could stand to have much more presence in the center, for the information they hold and theability for ELL center parents to create their own content and information. Even with these problems, the center is effective at what it sets out to do: empowerparents by providing English services and information about the environment of the UnitedStates. In this, it is an effective community information center.Works CitedBaran, Elena, Guloona, Osmanthus, Vinou. "About Us." Mom From Another Country. January 26, 2010. (accessed November 28, 2010).Center, ELL Parent. January 12, 2010. (accessed November 28, 2010).Illinois State Board of Education. "District Report Card." District 219 Niles Township High Schools. November 11, 2010. http://sharepoint.niles- (accessed December 2, 2010).Niles Townships ELL Parent Center. n.d. (accessed November 30, 2010).Saxena, Anupama. " Rural e-governance: Exploring the gender gaps and its impact on women (A case study of e-gram suraj scheme of Chhattisgarh State of India)." Community Informatics 6, no. 1 (2010).Skokie School District 68 . "Performance Scorecard." Skokie School District 68. 2009. (accessed December 2, 2010) "Your Library Wins Nations Highest Honor! ." Skokie Public Library . 2010. (accessed December 2, 2010).U.S. Census Bureau. "Skokie village, Illinois: Selected Social Characteristics in the United States: 2006-2008." American Fact Finder. n.d. qr_name=ACS_2008_3YR_G00_DP3YR2&-ds_name=ACS_2008_3YR_G00_&- _lang=en&-_sse=on (accessed November 30, 2010).
  18. 18. Sleyko 18Wallace, Corrie. "Niles Township Schools ELL Parent Center: A Unique Approach to the Global Village." Skokie: ELL Center, 2010.Williamson, Andy. "Disruptive spaces and transformative praxis: Reclaiming community voices through electronic democracy." Community Informatics Research Network Conference. Prato, Italy, 2006. 1-16.